For quite some time now, I have been interested in the Zero Waste movement. I changed some elements of my daily life as well as some shopping routines. Since I moved to a large city, I even have the luxury of being able to shop at “packaging-free” stores and seriously started thinking about opening such a shop myself.
However, I still see a problem with the implications people (inside and outside the movement) often connect to the idea of Zero Waste. Many traditional products are not available packaging-free or even with biodegradable packaging. As a consequence, people often assume they have to revert to making all these things themselves. Typical discussions revolve around how to boil soap, mix washing detergents, or produce beauty products. Many take the “go regional” call as far as to start baking bread and growing vegetables.
I don’t entirely exclude myself from this trend. I, too, have bought soda, natron, and citric acid to mix cleaning products. I’m growing some salad on our balcony from seeds I received as a present. I even have fun baking bread sometimes. My point is, these are things I enjoy as a distraction sometimes. However, I don’t want to have to do them every day.
Of course, industrial livestock farming and genetically modified crops are no alternative. The current system trimmed towards everlasting growth and efficiency isn’t the right way to stop the disastrous ecologic effects from happening. However, I don’t believe that everyone becoming their own baker, farmer, soap boiler is doing much good, either.
Another significant issue ties in with this: People tend to be lazy. Laziness is the reason for the ubiquity of convenience products: fast-food restaurants, frozen meals, and coffee to go. And even the best eco-conscious, zero waste oriented people get lazy sometimes. At some point, everyone craves something that is not available packaging-free. Even with the best intentions, you might be forced to buy a packaged lunch while traveling. Or you might not feel like kneading that pizza dough after a long day of work.
Most of these convenience products are not available without packaging yet. Partly, this is undoubtedly due to the lack of demand. People who go grocery shopping in a packaging-free store tend to avoid typical convenience and comfort food like chocolate chip cookies, potato chips, or frozen meals. Limited storage life and higher prices due to lack of industrialization are other issues that tie in with low expected demand.
But without the matching products, we will never be able to convince larger masses of people to change their lifestyle to packaging-free. As long as it’s still a huge hassle to buy these products in the first place, only very few people will make the switch. That’s why we need to make the shopping experience as convenient, self-explanatory, and easy as possible for customers.
At some point, politics will chip in, for example with bans on plastic or single-use packaging. But from experience, this will only happen once the majority of society has already made the switch. At this point, parties don’t risk losing too many voters if they implement these policies. That’s why waiting for “them up there” is no option if we want to change something in this world.